- Fellowship year:2020-2021
- University: Northwestern University
- Dissertation Topic/Category: Early Modern Europe
- Dissertation Title: Your Most Dedicated Consort: The Representation (and Self-Representation) of Three Consorts in Renaissance Italy
Your Most Dedicated Consort: The Representation (and Self-Representation) of Three Consorts in Renaissance Italy interrogates how sixteenth-century Italian humanists and the wives of Italian potentates—consorts—negotiated the distance between humanist rhetoric of private womanhood and the reality that consorts wielded significant political authority during their husbands’ absences from court. I argue that the necessity of consort-led regencies compelled humanists and consorts to enter a dialogue in order to establish a definition of good consortship that was compatible with the period’s idea of female virtue. Utilizing humanist ideals of femininity that prioritized wifely duty, selfless motherhood, and religious devotion as the foundation for their political actions, consorts were able to build partnerships with their spouses and courtiers, to maintain stability within their kingdoms, and to further their families’ political ambitions in Italy and beyond.
By highlighting the complex interplay between humanists and consorts, my work illustrates that virtue—an ostensibly conservative rhetorical mechanism that humanists used to discuss consortship—became the tool that Renaissance noblewomen used to access the avenues of power from which they were formally excluded. Through close analysis of the consorts’ letters to their husbands, courtiers, and fellow rulers, I contend that women deployed contemporary ideas of virtue to further their political goals. My dissertation, ultimately, demonstrates that although consorts did not write traditional political treatises, their correspondence shows that they were both thinking about the nature and operation of political power and strategically wielding political authority.